Proposed legislation lowers eligibility requirements to receive a public defender in Wisconsin. Right now, no one making more than $10,000 a year is eligible for representation by a state public defender, a standard state Sen. Jim Sullivan wants changed. Sullivan's bill would tie the eligibility standards to the definition of poverty under the state's W-2 program.
State Public Defender Nick Chiarkas says many Wisconsin residents who clearly meet the definition of poverty are not qualifying. The $10,000 standard has gone uncharged for twenty years, despite many previous efforts. Chiarkis and Sullivan say putting more tax revenue into the state Public Defender's office — some $4.5 million dollars — would actually save taxpayers money. That's because local circuit courts are now assigning more expensive private practice attorneys to suspects who can't afford attorneys, but who don't qualify for public defenders.